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Published: Sunday, 10/3/2004

A blaze of glory

BY MIKE KELLY
BLADE TRAVEL WRITER
Colors wash over rolling hills in the Port Oneida area of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan. Colors wash over rolling hills in the Port Oneida area of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan.
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Whatever you may have thought about the on-again, off-again summer of 2004, it's finally over. Now that we've moved on to fall, the days are getting shorter and the nights cooler, which is short-circuiting the chemical process of chlorophyll pigment production that's kept the trees in Ohio and Michigan green for the last six months. The carotenoids that have been lurking in the leaves all along are now free to bust out in vibrant hues of yellow, red, and orange, while the sugars

Um, yeah, OK. Whatever.

Unless you're a forensic botanist (think CSI: Sherwood Forest), you don't care about all that. What you may care about, though, is what kind of fall colors we can expect this season, and where some good spots are to take it all in before the winds of November begin whistling through the bare, forlorn-looking branches above our heads.

While cool temperatures in August and September fooled a handful of maple and dogwood trees and some Virginia creeper vines into turning colors early, this still should be a pretty normal season hereabouts for fall foliage. It started in late September way up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and should reach its peak in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan sometime around mid- to late October.

That's according to Bill Schultz, fall color expert with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources's Division of Forestry. "We got a few little tickles early, a tree here and there," Schultz said, "but 99.9 percent of our trees stayed green."

Actually, things may even wind up being a bit behind schedule this year, according to Dave Lorenz, vice president of Travel Michigan, the state's tourism promotion agency.

"Thanks in part to the bizarre weather we had this summer, I think the fall colors will go a little longer," Lorenz said. "I'm guessing we may go into the first couple weeks of November."

Though Michigan and Ohio are not generally known as showcases for fall foliage, with their millions of acres of hardwood forests they more than hold their own, with some of the most dazzling fall foliage to be found anywhere in the nation.

Lake Logan is in southeast Ohio's Hocking County. Lake Logan is in southeast Ohio's Hocking County.
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"New England has its maples, and we've got maples here, too," said Schultz. "The Rockies have their aspen, and we've got aspen here, too. They're just as beautiful here, and you don't have to drive all that way."

Lorenz echoes that sentiment, while adding a Michigan twist to it, naturally.

"Contrary to common belief, you will see just as much color in Michigan as the Northeast or anywhere else in the country," he said. "In fact, the mixture of evergreens with maples and oaks [in Michigan] provides a contrast you won't see in New England.".

Unbelievably, Ohio actually has more trees today than it did 100 years ago, Schultz said. Most of the state's woodlands are privately owned, and though about 300 million board feet of lumber is cut each year, more than a billion is grown to replace it.

"Since the 1920s, the state has sold half a billion seedlings to Ohioans," Schultz said.

A particularly good location in Ohio to see fall color is the Hocking Hills area in the southeast part of the state.

Schultz said that state, national, and local parks in both Ohio and Michigan also are good places to enjoy the colors of the season, "and in most areas, you'll eventually see the leaves changing in your own neighborhood."

In Ohio, ODNR suggests dozens of drives that highlight fall colors. Two in this area are State Routes 65, 424, and 111 from Perrysburg southwest to Defiance, and State Routes 105, 163, and 53 from Bowling Green northeast to Catawba Island.

In Michigan, Travel Michigan also suggests a number of driving tours. One is a circle route from Hillsdale north to Homer, then southwest to Sturgis and back east to Hillsdale.

"Wherever you're able to see the fall colors, it's worth the effort," said Travel Michigan's Lorenz. "If I didn't live here, I'd come here in the fall to vacation."

To keep "leaf peepers" apprised of changing color conditions as the season progresses, both Ohio and Michigan have phone numbers and Web sites with loads of information.

In Ohio, color reports are updated every Thursday through the end of October at a toll-free number, 1-800-BUCKEYE (282-5393), and on the ODNR's Web site, (www.ohiodnr.com).

In Michigan, color reports from AAA Michigan are updated each Wednesday through October at a toll-free number, (888) 78-GREAT (784-7328). Other information is available on the Internet at www.aaamich.com, www.michigan.org, or http://travel.michigan.org

Contact Mike Kelly at: mkelly@theblade.com

or 419-724-6131.



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